Brandon Heath has a problem. When his mother asks him what’s wrong, he says “I can’t tell you.” She isn’t about to take that for an answer. Can he keep his problem private, especially on Halloween?
Roxanne Heath looked at her son and wondered how long it would take.
“Brandon, please tell me what’s wrong. Whatever it is, we can work out a solution. And you know I never blame you for anything.”
“There’s nothing to blame me for, Mom!” Brandon responded. “I can’t tell you what’s wrong. There’s nothing you could do to help.”
“Sometimes just talking about it will help you come up with your own solution. So let’s sit down, you have a snack, and think about talking to me about whatever it is that’s bothering you.”
Roxanne watched Brandon worry as he played with the apple slices and cheese she’d fixed him for his afternoon snack. She could read his expressions; fifteen years of practice had honed her abilities. When he walked in, dragging his backpack on the floor behind him, looking down at the floor with a scowl accompanied by sadness in his eyes, she knew something was wrong.
She tried to think what it could be. It couldn’t be boyfriend trouble, he and Lane were thick as thieves — she thought ‘what a stupid expression,’ momentarily diverting her attention from the problem at hand. It probably wouldn’t be a bad test score or a problem with one of his classes; Brandon was a straight-A student. It couldn’t have anything to do with his position on the soccer team — they’d played their final game the past Friday and he’d scored two goals. The only thing she could come up with would be a bully giving Brandon a problem for being gay and out at school.
She decided to let him think about how to tell her about what made him sad and reticent.
When he finished his snack he looked at his mother with a half-hearted grin. She could see that he grinned for her benefit; his eyes still showed sadness.
“I’m going to go upstairs and double-check my homework,” Brandon said.
“It’s Halloween. Are you and Lane doing anything tonight?” Roxanne asked.
“No! I’m not doing anything tonight!” Brandon shouted. He turned and ran upstairs.
Roxanne thought, ‘Well, now I have a good idea what his problem might be.’
She decided to wait for a while before going upstairs to talk to him. She needed to give him some time to get over his anger and realize that he’d yelled at her, something he rarely did.
She thought about dinner. The little kids would start coming to the door trick-or-treating at around six o’clock. They should have something for dinner that would be interruptible so they could answer the door. Pizza would be perfect, with a salad. She phoned Extreme Pizza and ordered two large pizzas. First, Brandon’s favorite Baja 1000 with grilled chicken, black beans, salsa, black olives, red onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro, and cheddar. Then Don’s favorite vegetarian pizza. She liked both. In fact, she like almost any kind of pizza so it didn’t make any difference to her what she ordered. She asked for the pizzas to be delivered at six, then got the ingredients ready to make a salad.
She walked upstairs to talk to Brandon. He’d closed his door. That meant ‘Do not disturb’ so she went back downstairs. She sat in the family room and turned on the ‘News at 4 on 4’ and sat back and semi-concentrated on the local and national news reports. She also thought about Brandon’s reaction. Maybe he and Lane had a disagreement, perhaps about going trick-or-treating tonight. At fifteen they were probably too old. Besides, Brandon hadn’t asked about a Halloween costume. She decided to wait until dinner. She hoped Brandon would explain his problem then. She tuned in to a reporter who went to an elementary school to show the little kids in their Halloween costumes. Little kids dressed up for Halloween always looked so cute. She temporarily forgot about Brandon and whatever problem he was hiding from her.
When they sat down for dinner Brandon didn’t say much. Roxanne had told Don what had happened when Brandon arrived home from school. He’d said that he’d try to pry it out of his son. “Good luck with that!” she’d said. He’d just grinned.
“So, Brandon, how was school today?” Don asked.
“Okay. Same as any other day.” He took a big bite of pizza, trying to avoid answering his dad’s question by keeping his mouth full of food.
Brandon’s attempt at avoidance didn’t work with his dad.
Don stared at his son. “You seem morose. What’s going on?”
Brandon looked up “What? What’s that mean?”
“Morose means you’re moody and not being social. You should have come across that word in your English classes by now.”
“I know what morose means. I didn’t understand what you meant when you asked me what’s going on.”
“Okay,” Don responded. “First, you look like you lost your best friend. Second, you look like your world is coming to an end. Third, you look like you failed a math test. So, what’s going on?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“I just can’t tell you. It’s personal. It’s private. Okay?”
Before Don could respond, the doorbell rang. Roxanne got up and went to the door. Don and Brandon could hear little voices saying, “Trick or treat!” and her comments about cute Halloween costumes, then the little voices saying, “Thank you!”
Roxanne sat down and took a bite of pizza. Don would have continued his third-degree grilling of his son, but the doorbell rang again. He got up and distributed candy to the little trick-or-treaters. When he returned the doorbell rang again.
“Your turn, Brandon.”
For the next ten minutes they grabbed bites of pizza and salad between trips to the front door to treat the trick-or-treaters. Don put off questioning his son until later.
The doorbell rang and it was Don’s turn again. Roxanne and Brandon didn’t hear anyone say, ‘Trick or treat.’ Instead Don returned to the kitchen, followed by Lane. He wore a Knight’s costume.
Lane looked at Brandon. Roxanne saw his expression. He seemed confused.
“Hey, Bran! Why aren’t you ready?”
Now Brandon seemed confused. “Ready for what?”
“For Leslie’s Halloween party, of course.”
“I’m not going.”
“What? Of course you’re going. You’re my date, dufus. Stop stuffing your face with pizza and go put your costume on.”
“I don’t have a costume.”
“What’s your problem, Bran? We’re supposed to go to Leslie’s party, together, you and me. What’s going on with you?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“That’s BS. Oh, sorry, Mrs. and Mr. Heath. Anyway, Bran, you tell me everything. There’s no ‘I can’t tell you’ nonsense. Get your butt off that chair and we’re going upstairs to your room and we’ll find something you can wear to the party.”
Lane grabbed Brandon’s arm and lifted him off his chair like he weighed five pounds instead of one hundred forty-five pounds. He marched Brandon out of the kitchen and upstairs. Don and Roxanne heard Brandon’s bedroom door close, and then Lane and Brandon talking, though they couldn’t make out what they were saying.
“Okay,” Don said, “what’s going on?”
“I have no idea. When Brandon came home he looked like he did when Porky, his guinea pig, died.”
“You know, I think I know his problem,” Don said. “I’ll bet Brandon thinks he wasn’t invited to that Halloween party.”
Upstairs Brandon was spread-eagled on his bed and Lane sat on top of him, holding his arms down.
“Tell me what this bullshit is about. You were weird at school today, and this little act you’re pulling now is way over the top.”
Lane could see Brandon was close to tears.
“Leslie didn’t invite me to her party. I can’t go without an invitation.”
“Bullshit. She did invite you. She told me so herself.”
“If that’s true, why didn’t she give me an invitation?”
“She did. I saw her do it.”
“You need new glasses. She never gave me an invitation.”
“Dude, I watched her do it!”
“And exactly when did you see her give me this imaginary invitation that I never got and don’t have?”
“You remember when you were at the board doing that matrix inversion problem yesterday?”
“Yeah. So what?”
“She grabbed your PreCalc textbook and put your invite inside it.”
“She put it inside my PreCalc textbook?”
“YES! That’s what I said! Have you even opened your PreCalc book since yesterday?”
“No, why would I do that?”
“To do problems 31 through 50. They’re due on Friday. What, did you think they’d do themselves?”
“You don’t have to get nasty about it. I did them in class yesterday. Get offa me and I’ll get my PreCalc book and see if you’re dreaming, which I think will be proven when I open up that textbook and there’s no invitation from Leslie.”
Lane jumped off Brandon, thumping onto the floor.
“Jeez, you don’t have to bring the house down!”
“You, Brandon Heath, are really snippy today. You’ve been drinking too many sodas filled with caffeine and high-fructose corn syrup. They’re making your brain atrophy.”
Brandon got up and opened his backpack. No PreCalc textbook.
“Shit, it’s not here. I must’ve left my PreCalc book at school,” he said, hoping that wasn’t the truth.
“You know, for a smart guy you can really be dumb sometimes,” Lane said. Then he started giggling.
“What!?” Brandon demanded.
That made Lane bust up laughing. He ended up rolling on the floor next to Brandon’s bed.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!” Lane said once he stopped laughing. “This is too rich. You’re never gonna live this down, boyfriend!”
“If you don’t tell me what the hell is going on I’m going shopping for a new boyfriend this weekend — a better one.”
“Aw, I pissed off Brandy.” Lane started laughing again.
“Don’t call me Brandy!” Brandon hated his little-kid nickname, but he couldn’t help laughing along with Lane.
When they both calmed down, Brandon looked at Lane, leaned down, and kissed him. Lane grabbed Brandon and pulled him down and they continued kissing. Brandon finally pulled away.
“Okay, what was so funny?”
In a sing-song voice Lane said, “I spy, with my little eye, a textbook from school, sitting on top of a stack!”
Lane pointed at Brandon’s desk.
Brandon looked where Lane pointed. On top of a stack of books on his desk he saw a thick textbook. He got up and looked at the book.
He read out loud, “Precalculus: Enhanced with Graphing Utilities, 6th Edition, Sullivan & Sullivan.” He turned and looked at Lane who sat on the floor grinning.
Brandon sneered, then shouted, “Dufus!”
“Hey, don’t call me a dufus. You’re the one who thought you’d left your PreCalc textbook at school when it was sitting right there on your desk. Now open the book and find Leslie’s Halloween Party invitation.”
Brandon picked up the book by its covers, turned it spine side up, shook it, and watched as a bright orange card fell out and landed on the floor. He closed the book and carefully put it back on the stack, then picked up the card and read what it said.
“I guess I have been invited to Leslie’s Halloween Party. It starts at seven thirty.” He looked at the clock on his desk. “It’s six thirty. Why are you here so early?”
“Because,” Lane replied, “based on your shitty attitude at school today I figured I’d have to find out what the hell was wrong with you. I found out. I solved your problem. Now your task is to figure out what costume you’re going to wear to Leslie’s Halloween Party.”
“I don’t have a costume to wear.”
“Then make one.”
“Make one? Out of what?”
“I don’t know. What do you have in some dank, musty, dark corner of your closet that might work as a Halloween costume?” Lane got up and slid open the left-hand mirrored door to Brandon’s closet. He began rummaging around, looking for something that might work.
“Hey, how about you go as a cowboy?” Lane pulled out a cowboy-style long-sleeve shirt. “You still have that western-style hat, don’t you?”
“Yeah. It’s on the top shelf. Just look up and you’ll see it.”
Lane pulled down the Stetson hat and tossed it to Brandon.
“We need boots. Western boots. Like the kind you wear when you go horseback riding.”
“They really aren’t western boots, but I think they’ll do. If you look down, they’re in the back of the closet opposite your right foot.”
Lane grabbed the boots and tossed each of them to Brandon.
“I just thought of something else,” Brandon said. He got up and walked to where Lane stood in the front of the open closet door. Lane moved out of Brandon’s way as he pushed into that end of the closet. He found what he thought would be there: his heavy western-style light tan shearling leather jacket. “My mom got this for me a couple years ago at that thrift shop place near school. It didn’t fit, way too big for me then. She said I should try it in a year and see if I’d grown into it. I forgot about it until now. Lemme try it on.”
“You look great! That coat makes you look like that guy from ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ Your jeans have the exact right amount of wear, so they’re good to go. All you have to do is put on the shirt and boots.”
Brandon did as Lane suggested.
“Fantastic!” Lane said. “Now put on the coat and the hat.” He watched Brandon then said, “Now turn around and look at yourself in the mirror.”
“I don’t believe it! I have a costume, Lane!”
“Now what we need is a theme for our costumes. Hmm… I saw this old movie on TV, ’A Cowboy in King Arthur’s Court’ or something like that. That’s what we’ll go as. You’re the cowboy and I’m a knight in King Arthur’s Court. It’s perfect.”
“It is perfect. You’re my savior, my knight in shining armor!” Brandon declared, then grabbed Lane and kissed him.
“Aw, shucks, cowboy, I just did what any sidekick worth his salt would do!”
“What does ‘worth his salt’ mean?” Brandon asked his boyfriend.
“I don’t know. Anyway, enough already. Get your invitation and whatever else you want to carry with you to the party and let’s go downstairs and show your folks your costume.”
“Wait a minute. They’re going to want to know why I’d been moping around and not being very nice. I don’t want to tell them it’s because I made a mistake.”
“Just tell them you can’t tell them. It works for me.”
“Hmm. I already did that. I guess I can do it again.”
“All you have to do is be convincing. You can do that — be convincing — can’t you?”
“I’m always convincing. It’s my winning personality,” Brandon retorted.
That was met by Lane’s gagging sounds. Then they both laughed.
They went downstairs. Roxanne sat in the family room reading. Brandon walked in, stood in front of the sofa, spread his arms out, and said, “Ta dah!”
“That’s a very nice costume,” Roxanne said. “I take it you’re going to a Halloween party after all?”
“Yeah. It’s at Leslie Somerville’s house.”
“Her folks will be there,” Lane added.
“That’s good,” Roxanne said, “but as usual I want their name and phone number and I’m going to phone them.”
She smiled a typically protective-mother smile, and Brandon was careful not to roll his eyes. He pulled his invitation out of his pocket. “The contact information for Leslie’s folks is on the back. I’ll need it before we leave. No one will be admitted without their invitation. It says that right here.” He pointed to a line printed on the back of the invitation.
“You might be interested to know,” Lane added, “Leslie’s dad is a cop.”
“A policeman,” Don corrected, as he returned from giving out candy to yet another group of trick-or-treaters. “I know Steve Somerville.” He hadn’t been able to sit down before the doorbell rang again, so he left to give out more candy.
“Mom, can I have my invitation back?”
“Let me finish copying their contact information so I can phone them before you leave,” Roxanne said. She finished and handed him the invitation. “Here you go. What time are you leaving?”
“It starts at seven thirty and is over at eleven. I’ll be home by eleven thirty.”
“That’s acceptable,” Roxanne said. “Remember, you have school tomorrow so don’t try shutting off your alarm in the morning so you can go back to sleep.”
Don returned, then the doorbell rang again.
“Enough! Brandon, you and Lane go answer the door and give out candy until you leave for the party. Three pieces per kid, no exceptions.”
“Okay,” Lane said. “How many do I get to eat?”
“You’re a kid, so the answer is three. Same for you, Brandon.”
“Alright. Come on, Lane, let’s get this show on the road.”
As they walked out of the family room Don called after them, “No cheating!” That made the two boys laugh.
The number of trick-or-treaters increased, then started to slow down. At the same time, their average age climbed as more teenage kids saw this as an opportunity to pick up a supply of free candy.
Brandon’s cell chimed. “Okay, it’s a quarter after seven. Let’s go in and tell my folks we’re leaving.” He put on his western-style jacket and Stetson hat, and they walked into the family room.
“It’s seven fifteen, so we’re leaving,” Brandon announced.
“Have fun, boys,” Roxanne told them. “Remember, get home on time, Brandon. You too, Lane. You boys have school tomorrow. By the way, I phoned Beth Somerville, Leslie’s mother, and we had a nice chat.”
“Say, before you guys leave I have a question for you, Brandon,” Don said. “I asked you a question at dinner and you never answered me. I want to ask it again, and I’d like an answer. You seemed morose. What was going on?”
Brandon grinned. “I can’t tell you. It’s private. Right, Lane?”
“Absolutely, Bran. Now we’ve gotta leave so we’ll be at Leslie’s by the time the party starts, don’t you think?”
“I do. See you Dad. See you Mom.”
“I was right,” Don said loud enough for Brandon and Lane to hear him, “Brandon thought he wasn’t invited to the party.”
Brandon stopped and turned around. “How did you know?” he asked his dad.
“I can’t tell you. It’s private. Right, Roxanne?”
“Absolutely, Don. You two better get going, don’t you think?”
“Come on, Bran. Your mom’s right, we need to depart. Now.”
Brandon turned around and he and Lane walked to the front door. “Adults. I don’t understand them.”
As Brandon reached for the door handle the doorbell rang.
“Dad, some more trick-or-treaters!”
He opened the door and some middle school kids shouted, “Trick or treat!”
Don came to the door and started giving out candy. Brandon took a couple steps outside, then turned his head. “Dad, remember. Three pieces per kid, no exceptions.”
He and Lane laughed and ran down the walk. “I’m glad I’m not you when you get home,” Lane said.
“Nah, I know my folks. My dad’ll think what I said was funny. Now let’s get to Leslie’s and her Halloween party.”
“Can we say ‘trick or treat’ when we get there?”
Brandon laughed. “Sure, why not? But don’t expect them to be giving out candy.”
“I disagree,” Lane said.
When they got to Leslie’s house her mother opened the door and took their invitations. They said ‘trick or treat’ and on their way into the party she handed each of them exactly three pieces of candy, counting out each individually-wrapped piece one, two, three.
Brandon asked, “Why exactly three pieces of candy?”
Beth Somerville replied, “I can’t tell you,” and she laughed as she walked away.
Brandon and Lane looked at each other, rolled their eyes, and Brandon said, “Adults! I really do not understand them.”
A big Thank You to Cole Parker and Anthony Camacho for editing ‘I Can’t Tell You.’
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